January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month

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January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month and Arizona is actively fighting to rescue and protect victims and put the perpetrators behind bars.

In April 2013, Arizona’s Human Trafficking Task Force was created by then-Governor Jan Brewer in an effort to discover incidents of human trafficking, identify ways to end these crimes and help victims of the sex trade and forced-labor. Then, in 2014 Brewer established the Arizona Human Trafficking Council which is tasked with developing a comprehensive and coordinated victims’ service plan; evaluate and report to the governor statewide data on human trafficking; promote greater collaboration with law enforcement, state agencies and the community-at-large; and raise public awareness about victims’ services, restitution and prevention.

Thanks to legislation passed in 2014, H.B. 2454, Arizona’s definition and activities related to human trafficking have been expanded and penalties enhanced for these despicable crimes. Each defendant can potentially be charged with multiple counts. Such counts can include child prostitution for acts such as receiving the earnings from a minor engaged in prostitution or transporting a minor with the intent that she engage in prostitution, as well charges of sexual conduct with a minor. They can also be charged with transporting adult females for prostitution, compelling, inducing or encouraging them to engage in acts of prostitution, and receiving the earnings from their acts of prostitution. As the counts add up, our prosecutors are securing sentences of hundreds of years for the most horrific of cases.

Specifically, H.B. 2454 created a separate and higher sentencing structure for traffickers that increases the presumptive sentence:

  •                     From 10.5 years to 13.5 years for a first offense;
  •                      From 15.75 years to 24 years for a trafficker with a prior felony conviction; and
  •                      From 28 years to 31 years for a trafficker with two or more prior felonies.

In 2015, approximately 116 cases of human trafficking were reported in the state. For child prostitution alone, from January 1st, 2012 through October 13th, 2016 we’ve had cases filed with MCAO for 82 defendants involved in 90 cases.

Law enforcement agencies conduct regular investigations by monitoring classified listings for “escorts” on websites such as Craigslist and Backpage. If a potential crime is suspected, officers may conduct an undercover operation to catch those who are facilitating the trafficking and rescue or provide help to the victims. But law enforcement can’t find all such crimes that are occurring in our community. If you suspect someone is being trafficked, call the police. We also encourage citizens to donate to or support non-profits who provide a place for victims to stay and other services. By giving support to victims, they are in a better place to help law enforcement and prosecutors put these criminals behind bars so they can’t continue to victimize others.